Month 2 and Still Alive

Between teaching, meeting new people, and eating nearly everything in site, I’ve been pretty busy of late. That said, this post is mostly pictures but I think they do a solid job of summing up what these past few weeks have been like since my last post.

  • Food is one of the true joys of living in Korea. Most meals are served communally, with a group sharing a main entree and drinks (lots of drinks) together. Meals are always accompanied by ‘Banchan’, or small plates of delicious side dishes. Here is Google’s translation of a dish they serve at one of my favorite restaurants:
Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 8.47.18 PM
In case you couldn’t tell, it’s noodles
  • Koreans love their fried chicken and it is EVERYWHERE. They even have their own genre of food called ‘Chimaek’, literally translating to chicken & beer. I’m definitely not complaining. I ordered the equivalent of half an order of chicken to-go and literally got a half chicken…

IMG_0828

  • Unlike in America where school lunches consist of half-frozen pizza and a bag of Doritos, in Korea they’re actually pretty delicious and healthy. A funny difference is that nearly every teacher eats the school lunch in the cafeteria each day  – a testament to the food’s quality. The lunches are different everyday and have been a great opportunity to try new Korean foods. Here are some pictures of a typical day’s lunch:

IMG_3790 2IMG_5240IMG_7223IMG_5659

  • Something that all foreign teachers here can attest to is that teaching in Korea is characterized by daily random surprises. Take for instance the morning that I was greeted by a dancing Minion and Tiger. I still don’t know what this was for…. (Kid in the front is pumped up).

IMG_1357

  • I also went to my first Korean baseball game, the Kia Tigers. Baseball is huge here, as the KBO (Korean Baseball Organization) is one of the more competitive leagues in the world. Every player has their own theme song as they come to bat – one was to the tune of O Tannenbaum – and fans hardly ever watch the game without singing or clapping. The consistency of the sport is pretty remarkable and being so far from home, it’s definitely been a source of comfort to watch a familiar game that I love. Forget peanuts and Crackerjacks, here’s an example of a typical Korean concession menu. Next on my list is the shrimp ball and white garlic sauce :).

IMG_0076IMG_1522

  • Korean weather is characterized by cold winters, and hot/humid summers. For a brief period in the interim, however, there’s a pretty beautiful spring season. Weather seems to come and go very quickly here. For instance, Korea is known for its beautiful cherry blossoms, which sprouted up before disappearing only a week later. Also check out this flower field right next to my apartment, which grew in only a matter of days. I’m currently enjoying this beautiful weather before I die of the summer heat.

IMG_1557.JPG

Until next time, cheers!

-ER

Advertisements

Weird Showers, the Art of ‘Handsome’, and Street Food

I want you to take a good look at the following photo:

IMG_1452

My subpar cleaning abilities aside, you may notice the shower head up top near the light – directly above my sink and toilet. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you a Korean bathroom.

A size that makes those in NYC studios look like Buckingham Palace, you literally have to shower in front of your toilet (and yes, all of your stuff gets drenched). Pro tip: turn your shower back to ‘sink mode’ when you’re done using it. There’s nothing quite like getting soaked from above when going to wash your hands/brush your teeth.

 

 

On another note, from what I’ve gathered, the extent of an English education during a Korean’s early upbringing is largely limited to the memorization of standard conversational scripts. 99% of the time that you ask a Korean student how they’re doing, their response is verbatim:  ‘I am fine, thank you’ (who actually says that they’re ‘fine’?!).

Another way that this translates is through the word ‘handsome‘ – seemingly the only adjective they know. Imagine the ego stroke I get every day when students constantly tell me I’m handsome, I have a handsome body, and I even have a handsome singing voice. I’m starting to like this place…

 

 

Speaking of singing, not only have I performed at my first ever open mic on voice/guitar, but I’m also an active member of the Seonun Middle School guitar club!!! The saying that music is a universal language seems cheesy but in reality, it couldn’t be more true. With students that speak such little English, the amount of non-verbal communication that I’ve already with them just by jamming on guitar has been pretty incredible.

IMG_5311

 

On a more somber note: one of my close high school friends, Haley Anderson, passed away under tragic circumstances last week. The overwhelming support that I’ve received from friends and family, even as I’m across the word, has been astounding and I can’t thank everyone enough.

29025754_10216241834857448_8030635730147475456_n
Haley somehow managed to help a colorblind find a matching tie for Junior Prom

To me, the best word to describe Haley is ‘unique’. A member of the rare breed of female trombonists, Haley and I sat next to each other every day in band for nearly 6 years. Her laugh could literally be heard across the school and I never quite understood how one could be so cheery all. of. the. time.

It’s easy as humans to romanticize a person’s life after the fact but Haley was truly an incredible person that perpetuated love, compassion, and happiness through everything she did. My heart goes out to her mom, dad, sister (and my friend) Maddie, and the rest of her family during these tough times.

You can honor Haley’s life by donating to this GoFundMe campaign in her memory, with all proceeds going directly to her family. As of this post, they’ve already raised $53,695 of their $15,000 goal.

 

I’ll leave you this time with a photo of some street food that tasted as good as it looks :). And with Opening Day right around the corner, Let’s Go Mets!

Cheers (or 건배 in Korean),

ER

IMG_6180

 

 

Greetings from Gwangju!

This is my first installment of the Rat Tales from here in Korea (sorry for the delay)! I have been here for just over three weeks now and when I tell you that I feel like I’m living on another planet, I am not exaggerating.

Orientation

My first week was spent at orientation for the EPIK program (English Program in Korea) in a city called Busan. Busan is a gorgeous beach city – look up pictures if you’ve never seen/heard of it. At orientation, I was joined by roughly 200 other English-speaking foreign teachers that will be scattered throughout Korea for the year. Side note – who knew that people from South Africa are so awesome?!

I was fortunate to have a group of about 25 other teachers placed with me in Gwangju and we all hit it off pretty quickly. Having this built-in friends group upon arriving is definitely what has kept me sane to this point.

IMG_5039
Friends from Utah, California, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Alaska (people live there?)

All in all, orientation was an utterly tiring, but incredible experience that gave us a solid glimpse into a teacher’s life in Korea as well as some useful teaching skills. It was, however, a giant bubble of English-speaking people that buffered us from the reality of living in Korean society.

 

Living in Gwangju

Both the blessing and the curse of living in Gwangju is that unlike Seoul, the city has an incredibly low number of Westerners (or non-Koreans for that matter). I think this food menu accurately personifies the challenges that I face each day.

IMG_5152

The city itself is a massive urban sprawl – endless miles of amazing restaurants, high-rise apartments, and yes… KFC and McDonalds.

My apartment is located about 45 minutes from the main ‘downtown’ area. Although this isn’t the most convenient spot when it comes to going out/seeing friends, I live in a cool college-town with lots of restaurants and some gorgeous scenery.

IMG_5091
The closet I call home

Funny Story: My friend (who is a tall, blonde, white dude) was walking along the street when an older Korean woman approached him. She pointed at him and assertively yelled ‘SNOWMAN….SNOWMAN!!’ in his face. I guess the logic is that snowman are white and so is he?….

 

Teaching

Last week was my first week teaching and it was filled with both highs and lows. I am placed in two middle schools teaching students in 8th and 9th grade. Essentially, I am the American ‘coteacher’, teaching alongside a Korean teacher to students that know only broken English at best.

The problem with teaching middle schoolers – as opposed to younger students – is that many of the Korean teachers take the term ‘coteacher’ loosely, instead spending the class period doing their own thing in the back of the classroom. This has forced me to control a classroom and teach lessons almost entirely by myself, with almost no formal training or teaching experience.

IMG_5209
Funny response from one of my students.

As tough as this seems at the moment, I’m sure that I will continue to improve at teaching and I think it will be a great opportunity to grow professionally.

 

I will leave you with some funny signs that I’ve found. Hope things are well back in the states and be on the lookout for more Rat Tales soon!

-ER

 

A Feel Good Story

It’s Thursday morning and I’ll be flying over to Seoul tomorrow for my orientation. Your social feeds today are probably filled with sad news and idiots arguing so I figured I’d share a quick  story.

My family just sold my late-grandpa’s riverside house upstate in Roscoe, New York. For those of you who never knew him, my grandpa – or Nelson H., as he was commonly known – was a truly remarkable man. A friend to seemingly everyone around town, we used to joke by calling him the ‘Mayor of East Meadow’.

Aside from his larger-than-life personality, he is considered a legend within the East Meadow Fire Department, having served as fire chief numerous times and remaining active well into his 80’s (the dude got his EMT certification at 82!!).

IMG_0460

He purchased the aforementioned house in Roscoe roughly 30 years ago as a place to pursue his passions of fly-fishing/hunting as well as for his rapidly growing family to spend time with one another.

Anyway, my mom and her siblings just sold the house after keeping it around for a few years after his passing. With all of the money earned from the sale, they will be establishing the ‘Nelson H. Finkelman Scholarship Fund’, which will award college funding to outstanding students involved in the East Meadow Junior Firefighters program.

I could not think of a better way to translate this house – a place that he saw so many fond memories at – into gifts that will continue to inspire generations of young firefighters for literally years and years to come.

 

——————————————————————————

 

I can’t help to feel anything but fortunate for the adventure that awaits me starting tomorrow. I also think of the many immigrants in our own country who don’t have it as good as I do – many of who were forced to come here escaping oppressive governments, persecution, and life/death situations just to pursue a better life.

I hope when my international stint is all set and done that I return to a country that is quick to embrace cultural diversity and the ability for all types of people to strive for happiness – what I believe to be the true American dream.

Next you hear from me I’ll be across the world.

Deuces,

ER

  to follow this blog for email updates (on the right side of this page)

Nope. This is not a joke.

Over the past month or so I’ve sold off most of my possessions, left the comfort of my life back in Dallas, TX, and am now preparing for a year-long adventure teaching English in Gwangju, South Korea.

Why am I doing this? An insatiable hunger to travel for one. More so, however, I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of moving to a place as far out of my comfort zone as imaginable while being forced to adapt to a culture far different than my own.

I’m sure you’re thinking ‘what the heck is Gwangju?’ –  and trust me, I was equally clueless up until a week ago. Here’s the rundown:

  • Gwangju is the 6th largest city in Korea, with a population of 1.5MM (roughly the size of Philadelphia – or San Antonio for you Texas folk)
  • It’s located on Korea’s southwestern shore – 2 hours south of Seoul, Korea’s capital
  • It has major historical significance, most notable for the devastating ‘Gwangju Uprising’ of 1980
  • The city is known for its rich culinary history (check), beautiful mountainous surroundings for hiking/recreation (check), and its plethora of norebong, or Korean karaoke rooms (you never know until you try, right?)
  • They have a professional baseball team (!!) called the Kia Tigers. Baseball is HUGE in Korea
KBO-Kia-Tigers-win-2017-1080x675 2
Kia Tigers – 2017 Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) Champions (wbsc.org)

 

If you’ve ever considered living abroad or traveling extensively, I hope this blog inspires you. Seeing the world isn’t something that takes a ton of money and often times, realistic opportunities are right in front of your eyes.

Even if you think what I’m doing is the most absurd thing you’ve ever heard, I hope you’ll find some type of entertainment in this blog (or at least find my dad jokes funny).

This is not a goodbye to America but just a ‘see you in a bit’. And as my mom said when I accepted the contract – ‘I’m going to buy you a compass so you know not to head North’.

Cheers,

ER

011f2532-2fd0-492e-901f-cadcfdc76d39-c3ef93e6-896c-4fcd-afcf-51310a33b307-v1

  to follow this blog for email updates (on the right side of this page)